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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Can These Bones Live? - Pastor John Roekle

March 29, 2020 [Lent 5] Ezekiel 37:1-14 J.D.Roekle

The hand of the Lord was upon me. He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley, which was full of bones. 2He had me pass through them and go all over among them. There were very many on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

3He said to me, “Son of man, can these dry bones live?” I answered, “Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ ”

5This is what the Lord God says to these bones.

I am about to make breath enter you so that you will live. 6I will attach tendons to you. I will put flesh back on you. I will cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I was prophesying there was a noise, a rattling, as the bones came together, one bone connecting to another. 8As I watched, tendons were attached to them, then flesh grew over them, and skin covered them. But there was no breath in them.

9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the wind. Prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind that this is what the Lord God says. From the four winds, come, O wind, and breathe into these slain so that they may live.”

10So I prophesied as he commanded me. Breath entered them, and they came back to life. They stood on their feet, a very, very large army.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They are saying, ‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have been completely cut off.’ 12Therefore, prophesy and say to them that this is what the Lord God says. My people, I am going to open your graves and raise you up from your graves and bring you back to the soil of Israel. 13Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live. I will settle you on your own land, and you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”

Can These Bones Live?

Dear Friends in Christ,

Just over a decade ago I was on a tour in Egypt that took us to a place called St. Catharine’s Monastery. The Greek orthodox monastery was built in the middle of the Sinai desert, at the foot of Mount Sinai. The walled monastery was built around the traditional site of the burning bush that Moses encountered. There is a bush that continues to grow today that some say is part of bush that Moses saw. But the thing that stands out most in my mind about that monastery is a room full of bones. We were able to peer into the room through glass to catch a glimpse of the site. The bones of the monks who have served there over the centuries are stored there. One bin is full of skulls. Another bin is full of the other bones of their bodies. A jarring sight to be sure!

I can’t help but think of that place when I read once again about what Ezekiel saw. What a sight this must have been for Ezekiel. A valley of bones. And not just a few bones, but the valley was full of bones. And apparently, they had been there for some time, because they were very dry.

These bones were meant to be a picture. The Lord told Ezekiel what these bones were all about: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It is important to understand that the house of Israel had been carried off into captivity. The northern 10 tribes of Israel were carried off by the Assyrians, and the southern two tribes of Israel, known as Judah, were later carried off by the Babylonians. Ezekiel was a part of this second group who now lived in Babylon.

It was Ezekiel’s job to console this group. But they appeared to be somewhat inconsolable. The Lord quoted them as saying: “‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have been completely cut off.’” Their hopes were dashed. They were not able to return to their home land. They were no longer able to live life as ‘normal.’ They weren’t able to visit the temple which would have been the hub of activity for those living in Judah.

Does that sound at least a little familiar? My own routine this past week has changed substantially. I’m spending much of my time at home in my office. I even had three video meetings for the first time ever. I’ve really only gone out the house to take a walk, to go the store briefly, or to come down to church. I haven’t seen too many people other than family members. What is your routine like? For some of you, it may not have changed all that much. For others, you may feel like you have been exiled to your homes. You may feel cut off from your world. Cut off from everything that is familiar to you.

Do you long for more normal times? Are you feeling sad that you can’t come to this place to worship your Lord? Do you feel cut off from your friends? Are you starting to feel as if things will never actually get back to normal? Are you reflecting what the dry bones – the house of Israel – said: “Our hope is lost”?

There was a time that you didn’t have any hope. When you were essentially nothing but dead dry bones. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we were dead. Dead in our trespasses and sins. Your sins made you dead before God. Your ears did not hear God’s voice. Your voice could not speak or sing God’s praises. Your feet could not walk in God’s path. Your hands were not able to do anything good for him or your neighbor.

Can these bones live? It certainly doesn’t appear that they could. Because you were dead in your sins, you couldn’t make yourself alive. And no one else could do that either.

No one, that is, except for the Holy Spirit. He breathed in you the breath of life. That happened through the Gospel as he brought you to faith. He gave you ears to hear what God in Jesus Christ your Savior has done for you. He gave you a heart to love the one who saved you by his perfect life and innocent death. He gave you the voice to declare the praises of the one who brought you to life. He gives you feet and hands to walk in his ways and to serve him all your days.

So, as we go through these strange and difficult times, we may hope things get back to normal. We hope we get through this time without getting sick ourselves. We hope that we won’t pass anything on to others. We hope we can get back to church soon.

I can’t stand here and assure you of any of those things. I don’t know when or if things will really get back to the way we are used to. I don’t know if you or I will get sick or if will accidently pass something on to someone else. I don’t know at this point when we’ll be able to resume meeting together in this building.

But what I can assure you of is the grace of God. God continues to love you. God will continue to do what is best for you. Remember to put your hope in him. The hymnwriter reminds us of why our hope belongs in God:

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare to make no other claim But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

If things are getting you down, go to the one source that can truly pick you up. Go to the Good News of the Jesus Christ. Listen to the Word of God again and again. If you have to spend more time at home these days, fill the void of loneliness with a reading of God’s Word.

One simple way of doing that is by using the devotion that is at the end of the service folder for today. My family did that this past week, using the suggested readings and reading the catechism together. I pray that you did too. If you didn’t, you can do it this week. Or you can use other various resources in order to hear once again about the hope that we have alone in Christ Jesus. The hope that has made us alive! The hope that keeps us alive!

Dear Christian friends, I also want you to remember that you are a vast army. Even though many of us are now homebound, it doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected. Communicate with each other and encourage each other about the hope that we have. Together you and I can ward off the enemies that want us to return to the grave of unbelief. Together we march to encourage each other in the faith. And it is all to God’s credit and his glory! Amen.

Rejoice In Your Calling As A Christian - Pastor John Roekle

February 2, 2020 [Epiphany 4] 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 J.D.Roekle

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Rejoice In Your Calling As A Christian

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are getting used to having call meetings around here, aren’t we? Over the last year in particular, we have had a number of call meetings for teachers because of all the turnover. In December, we placed yet another call for a Dean of Students, and in the last couple weeks, we found out that the gentleman we called is coming. On Tuesday, we will be calling for a principal, since our current principal has taken a call. And some of you were there on Tuesday when it was decided to call a second pastor. Now when we place a call of this kind, it is called a divine call. We say that because we believe that the Holy Spirit works through the congregation during the call process in order to choose a candidate to serve as a pastor or teacher on behalf of the congregation.

There are only certain individuals who have or receive a divine call, but each one of us gathered here has something even more important. Each of us has a calling. We have been called to faith. We have a calling as a Christian. Is that something to boast about?

A couple years ago, a British newspaper published an article which addressed how certain companies are flaunting their generosity. The CEO of Starbucks wrote an open letter to staff in which he committed to hire 10,000 refugees in response to President Trump’s immigration ban. Then there is the CEO of Airbnb who tweeted that the company was providing free accommodation to anyone not allowed in the U.S. Uber said that they created a $3 million fund to help drivers affected by the immigration ban. Other companies have since attempted to outdo each other with major acts of generosity, but the article concludes that there is a catch: They’ll do good as long as they can make sure their customers know about it. Isn’t this simply a former of boasting that is self-serving?

That is something that we want to be wary of as Christians: that we don’t boast that we are Christians in order to simply draw attention to ourselves. “Look at what a good Christian I am.” After all, consider what Paul says: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

The question Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to consider is why they were Christians in the first place; why they were a part of the family of God. Was it something special that God saw in them? Their intellect or their influence on society or their royal status? Were they celebrities? Paul essentially says ‘no’, it wasn’t any of those things.

Why are you called into the body of Christ? Are you a Christian because you are such a hard worker? Is it because God saw some special quality in you? No. It wasn’t any of those things. In fact, it had nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done.

No matter how famous a person might be, or how intelligent, or how influential, or how talented…it has no bearing on you being a Christian today. That is because you were dead in sin. That means that by nature you were dead before God. There was no reason for God to choose you. In fact, there was every reason for God to simply cast you away from his presence forever.

But” Paul said, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

Think about who Jesus surrounded himself by during his ministry. Was it the wise and influential? The Scribes and teachers of the law, the Pharisees and Sadducees? Not at all. He was actually at odds with them. Jesus was a puzzle to them.

That’s because of who Jesus called to follow him. Think about those who were closest to Jesus, his disciples. Some were simple fishermen. There was a despised tax collector in the bunch. Think of others Jesus chose to associate with: prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ Not exactly a ‘who’s who’ of Israel.

Why would Jesus do that? Often times the wise and powerful didn’t want anything to do with him. They trusted in their riches or their intellect. They boasted in themselves and so they had no room for Jesus.

But Jesus knew precisely who needed him. He knew it was the neglected who needed him. The weak and vulnerable who needed him. He knew that it was those who felt the crushing guilt of their sin who needed him.

After all, they could relate to a Savior who looked to be far from royalty. A Savior who looked just as common as they did. A Savior who himself became weak and vulnerable, and a Savior who would eventually take all sin on his shoulders as he met his own demise on the cross.

They could relate to a Savior like this, and so can you, right?! After all, this seemingly weak and powerless Savior showed his ultimate power by breaking the shackles of death and bursting out of his 3 day prison.

God showed power through that which looked weak: through his Son, Jesus Christ. And so also, through you too, he also displays his power. You who were once dead have been made alive in him. Even though you are weak, in him you are made strong.

To the world, you do look weak. In fact, the world says that religion is a crutch for the weak. That means to them, the fact that you come to church means that you can’t go it alone. How true that is! You are a testimony to the world of God’s strength. He gives you the means with which to grow stronger in the faith: the Word and the Lord’s Supper. And those means work just like food. If you eat regularly, you’ll be fine. But, what if you don’t eat anything for a couple weeks or several months? How long can you survive without food? How long can your faith survive without God coming to you through these means? Remember that the strength isn’t in you, but it comes to you from God!

So, is being called to be a Christian something to boast about? Not if we think we have something to do with it. The hymnwriter expresses it well:

Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill thy law’s demands.

Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and thou alone.

But it is something to boast about when the boasting is in the right place. All our boasting is to be in God. All our boasting is to be directed to the cross:

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace.

Foul, I to the fountain fly-- Wash me, Savior, or I die!

And so, dear Christian friends, rejoice! Rejoice in your calling as a Christian. God has made you who you are. God has maintained your status before him. God has ensured your eternity with him. Boast in that! Amen.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving - Pastor John Roekle

January 5, 2020 [Christmas 2] John 1:14-18 J.D.Roekle

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Dear Friends in Christ,

My wife and I received an Instant Pot for Christmas from one of our sons. Now, I have to confess that I didn’t really know much about it before we received it, and in fact, I’ve been just gradually learning about it since. The Instant Pot makes many claims. It is easy to use. It is easy to clean. It can cook up to 70% faster than other cooking methods. It can provide healthier, less expensive meals quickly. It replaces up to 7 other kitchen appliances. And of course, this isn’t a one-use gift. This is a gift that keeps giving, since it can be used over and over again.

Our Heavenly Father did not have our stomachs in mind when he sent his Christmas gift into the world: his own Son. But he certainly did have our best interests in mind. When Jesus came to earth, the Bible literally tells us that he “tented” among us. Just as a tent is temporary housing, so also the earth was going to be temporary housing for Jesus. He was here and gone in 33 years. And yet, Jesus was not just a temporary gift that was given for a few decades. Jesus is a gift that we enjoy today. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

Are you one that likes to find unique gifts to give? You search high and low. You go to specialty shops in various places to find it. You scour the internet for that one gift that stands out.

Jesus is a unique gift. John says he is one of a kind. He is the one and only. At first glance, it may not appear that way. The prophet Isaiah said this about Jesus: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Far from looking unique, Jesus looked rather plain and ordinary. There wasn’t anything in his features, his build, or his stature that gave the appearance that this was someone special.

But just as the best gifts are in unlikely packages, so it is with Jesus. Jesus appeared as he did so that he could experience all that we experience. He would experience hunger, thirst, pain, sorrow, and even death. He would experience all things we do, except sin. He was born without sin, and he never engaged in sin of any kind. That’s what makes him such a one of a kind gift. He is a one of a kind gift that keeps on giving.

There are people who like to overwhelm people with gifts. They give gifts to people for every conceivable occasion. They like to give many, many gifts. Jesus is one who has an overabundance of gifts to give, and he gives them most generously to us. In particular, he gives us grace and truth.

Grace is God’s unearned and unmerited favor. He loves us unconditionally and ‘just because.’ It is the Law that reminds us of who we are. Think of what you confessed earlier: “I confess that I am by nature dead in sin. For faithless worrying and selfish pride, For sins of habit and sins of choice, For the evil I have done and the good I have failed to do, You should cast me away from your presence forever.”

If that’s the end of it, we’re in big trouble. But the gift that keeps on giving reaches out to us with his grace. Christ has died for you! Christ has risen for you! Christ will come again…for you! Christ is the one who has made us alive even though we were dead, steeped in our sins. And it is Christ who declares to us that because of what he has done, our sins are forgiven.

Now that you have received forgiveness of sins from Christ, does that mean you won’t sin once you leave church today? Of course not. If we say that we’re without sin or that we’ll quit sinning, we are only deceiving ourselves. No, the truth is that our sinning will continue today and beyond. But remember that God’s grace is like a well that never runs dry. Next week, the pastor will announce once again that your sins are forgiven. That will be true the following week and the week after that. Grace is a gift that you’ll never be short of. It will always come to you plentifully.

And another gift that Jesus gives you and me is truth. The term “fake news” has been popularized primarily by our current president. The term calls into question whether or not what is being spoken or written is true. How do you know what to believe? What source is really accurate? Who do you trust?

Isn’t it comforting then to know that Jesus speaks truth. In fact, Jesus is truth in the flesh. The purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus. All Old Testament prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus. The purpose of the New Testament is to point to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

In our world, people want to create their own truth. Their own reality. “I’ll believe what I want to believe.” Others question: “How do I know what to believe?” What a gift it is to know the truth! There is only one reality. And it is all rooted in our Triune God, and revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What a comfort it is to know this truth. Knowing the truth changes our whole perspective on life. Don’t take this truth for granted!

Why is Christ such a great gift? There are many births that have been widely anticipated. For instance, whenever someone in the royal family is giving birth to a baby, the press is all over it. There has not been a more anticipated birth, however, than the birth of the Christ child. What is it that sets this child apart? The lyrics of the Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” express it: “When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God. Mary did you know?”

That seems like a contradiction when you read John’s Gospel. He says: “no one has ever seen God.” So how do we understand this? If we are to see God in all his glory, as sinners we could not survive such an encounter. God is too holy for us. So what does God do? He makes himself known to us by toning down his glory. He puts himself into the form of a tiny baby, whose brain needs to develop and who needs to learn to crawl and then walk.

But make no mistake. Mary was kissing the face of God. She and Joseph raised the Son the God. The gift of this child is so special because only God can be such a blessing to so many. From him, John says, “we have all received one blessing after another.” Jesus gives us one blessing after another. But you know, that doesn’t tell the real story. More literally, those words of John read: “we have all received grace upon grace.” That tells you even more about the gift giver. It tells you his heart. It tells you that he has an endless supply of love for you.

You may have received some very useful gifts for Christmas. Ones that you will use over and over again. But one day, those gifts you reuse will break or wear out or become obsolete. Jesus Christ is the one gift that is always needed and is always useful. And it is the one gift that truly never stops giving. Amen.